Premier League 2
Arsenal 2 (Tormey 41, Balogun 63) Liverpool 2 (Jones 30, 38)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Hector Bellerin was heavily involved as he completed his first 90 minutes since returning from injury, with Arsenal U23s coming from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home to Liverpool.
Bellerin, who made his first-team return in the Carabao Cup victory over Nottingham Forest, was rather rusty in the first half on this occasion and a stray pass from the Spaniard ultimately culminated in one of Curtis Jones’ two goals for Liverpool.
However, after Nathan Tormey had reduced the deficit for Arsenal, Bellerin atoned for his earlier error by providing an assist for the prolific Folarin Balogun, who has now scored seven goals in seven U23 games this season.
Arsenal ended up drawing 2-2 for the fourth time in the last five games, but a point will be seen as a positive result considering the difficulties that they endured earlier in the game.
Kieran Tierney, deemed fit enough to step up to the first-team, wasn’t involved, while Karl Hein, Trae Coyle and Tyreece John-Jules (who is injured) all dropped out of the side that started against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
First-team goalkeeper Matt Macey came into the side, as did Tolaji Bola, Zech Medley and Matt Smith, with second years Sam Greenwood and Ryan Alebiosu being named on the bench.
Arsenal started in a 3-5-2 formation, with Tormey joining Balogun up front.
Liverpool named a strong team including Ki-Jana Hoever, Sepp Van den Berg, Rhian Brewster and Jones, while Harvey Elliott was amongst the substitutes.
Subs: Omole (for M. Smith, 74), Greenwood (for McEneff, 88). Not used: Hillson, Alebiosu, Olowu.
Arsenal started brightly, with captain Robbie Burton playing an excellent pass into the path of Balogun, but the striker headed over.
Van den Berg then did likewise at the other end before Balogun had a shot saved by Liverpool goalkeeper Ben Winterbottom.
After much sparring, Liverpool eventually took the lead in the 30th minute, with Bellerin conceding possession in the build-up and Jones doing well to guide the ball beyond the reach of Macey.
Macey then had to be alert to save from Herbie Kane but he couldn’t prevent Jones from getting his second goal shortly afterwards, with the 18-year-old creeping in at the far post to head home.
Arsenal were dejected at conceding twice in eight minutes, but to their credit they weren’t disheartened for too long and managed to reduce the deficit before the break.
Tormey is usually deployed out wide but featured up front in the first half and made the most of his pace as he sped away from the Liverpool defence on a breakaway before finishing well.
The young Gunners could have equalised just before half-time, but Bellerin’s teasing cross just eluded Balogun.
Arsenal switched to a four at the back system for the start of the second half, with Tormey and Bola as the wingers.
Liverpool’s Adam Lewis had to be stretchered off in the early stages of the second half following a challenge from Burton.
Eventually Arsenal managed to pull level and the goal was a well-worked team move, with Tormey and Bellerin involved, the latter producing an excellent flick before crossing for Balogun to score.
Jones then sought to complete his hat-trick and restore Liverpool’s lead, but his effort was saved by Macey.
There were a flurry of substitutions late on, with Tobi Omole and Greenwood coming on for Arsenal and Elliott entering the fray for Liverpool.
It was Liverpool who looked most likely to get a winner, with Van den Berg heading over and Elijah Dixon-Bonner, who was at Arsenal as a schoolboy, failing to find the target.
In the end, though, it finished 2-2, with Arsenal having had to work very hard to come from behind.
Bould will be concerned at how vulnerable his side have been defensively this season, but in attack Arsenal are a major threat, with Balogun prolific and Tormey becoming increasingly influential.
From the first-team’s perspective it was a positive encounter, with Bellerin, Mavropanos and Macey all receiving runouts.
Arsenal’s midfield lacked creativity, though, with the promotion of Joe Willock to the first-team squad having left a significant void.
Next up is the trip to face Peterborough United in the Leasing.com Trophy on Tuesday night.